Mixed Signals

Looking for music to accompany your protest? Expect the unexpected.

Across the nation, countless activist groups have designated Miami as a target for direct action, a place to protest the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement scheduled to be negotiated by trade ministers from 34 countries. If all goes according to plan for them, the streets of downtown Miami will be filled with thousands of protesters purposefully marching across Biscayne Boulevard; stages full of activists shouting their opposition to the incipient FTAA; sidewalks crammed with concerned citizens debating the agreement's causal effects, and melodic chants, triumphant songs, and earnest musicians blaring from all corners.

Or there could be a few hundred out-of-towners wandering around the city, half of them yelling at each other through loudspeakers and microphones, the other half trying to ferry the nearest taxi to South Beach. Who knows?

At any rate most of the local music venues haven't announced any special plans. In fact Wallflower Gallery, a small enclave hidden away on Flagler Street that usually hosts folk concerts on the weekends, is understandably skittish enough about its proximity to the protest area to close down for the entire week. For now Churchill's Hideaway, which is assembling a three-night showcase of agit-pop music, is the exception. Tuesday, November 18, is dedicated to electronic music; Wednesday, November 19, will feature punk rock bands; and Thursday, November 20, will star rock artists Chris Chandler and Anne Fenney, and Spacehippie.

The most intriguing night takes place on Tuesday, when the Beta Bodega Coalition, a shadowy collective of local producers led by graphic designer and label owner Steven "La Mano Fria" Castro, appears along with electro-breaks DJs Danny L and Lotus. The night will serve not only as a protest, but as a CD-release party for Megadebt,a new EP being issued through Beta Bodega subsidiary Rice and Beans; and Multiple Peady,the debut EP from Boniato Records that features music from San Francisco producers Wobbly, Sutekh, and Blevin Blechdom. Several producers operating under pseudonyms like Force.fed and Dr. Shankar worked on Megadebt(though one, Otto von Schitpiss, is a giveaway).

Castro was unable to be reached for comment, so Edward Bobb a.k.a. Needle spoke in his stead. Bobb is a pillar of the local electronic community, thanks to his participation in cult bands like the Happiness Boys and Early Warning System. Full of stories about Miami music history, he loves to speak at length in a relaxed, whimsical tone. But when the conversation shifts to his work with fellow producer Sony Mao for Beta Bodega, he abruptly switches to a clipped, direct monotone.

"Our role is very specific," he says. Needle and Sony Mao will transmit transcripts of radio and television news reports and other electronic-based matter, sonically illustrating radical left positions on the alleged effects of the FTAA agreement -- rampant poverty and joblessness, environmental destabilization, and government corruption.

"We're soldiers, we're just there to emphasize the party line," he continues. "We don't create policy. We enforce it."


It may be difficult to believe that so few Miami clubs are offering FTAA-themed events. (Churchill's booking agent Rebecca Mori thinks that other venues will jump onboard once they realize how many people will be coming into town -- and how much money there is to be made.) In reality, though, many of the protest events are hurriedly being assembled in time for the FTAA meetings. Even Mori doesn't know yet what bands are playing for the Churchill's punk night.

The main FTAA cultural event will be the People's Gala for Global Justice, a free gathering of musicians; local, national, and international speakers; and other performers. Its headliners are four outspoken, decidedly leftist musicians with varying degrees of notoriety: altrock icon Billy Bragg, beloved for his collaborations with Wilco and songs like "Greetings to the New Brunette"; country-rock hero Steve Earle, one of Nashville's most infamous and talented songwriters; Tom Morello, former leader of Rage Against the Machine and current leader of hard-rock supergroup Audioslave; and soul-rock legend Lester Chambers, who, as one of the Chambers Brothers, recorded the 1968 psychedelic classic and Nineties Nike jingle "Time Has Come Today."

For the quartet, Miami is a major stop on their Tell Us the Truth tour, a thirteen-city concert series inspired by Bragg's participation in the National Conference on Media Reform in Madison, Wisconsin. He would eventually recruit the other three stars; since the tour began, entertainers like comedian Janeane Garofalo, R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills, and rapper Boots Riley from the Coup have jumped onboard for select dates.

"I was invited to come and speak and perform at [the media conference]," says Bragg during an early morning phone call from Madison. "Subsequently, I was invited to come to Miami for the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas protest. It seemed to me that we might be able to do a little tour that linked the two."

The Tell Us the Truth crew won't be the only artists performing. There's also Ife-Ile, local Cuban salsa troupe, and various other acts yet to be determined. In addition, more than twenty local, national, and international speakers will trundle up to the stage to shout out their version of "power to the people."

"Communities of color and people who often have to fight for their voices to be heard use different methods to do that. One way has been through the arts," says Kameelah Benjamin-Fuller, a field organizer for the Citizen's Trade Campaign. CTC is one of numerous organizations working on the event; others include Root Cause, the Sierra Club, and the AFL-CIO. Later she reveals that another last-minute headliner has been added to the Gala bill for all the hip-hop heads: incendiary Brooklyn duo dead prez.

"We're using music as a way to entertain and to create an atmosphere," says Benjamin-Fuller. "It brings people out who may not know much about the issue, or who would generally not come out for something like this, to attract them."

The Tell Us the Truth tour appears during the People's Gala for Global Justice at 7:00 p.m. Wednesday, November 19, at the Bayfront Park Amphitheater, 301 N Biscayne Blvd. Call 305-358-7550. Churchill's FTAA events take place at 8:00 p.m. Wednesday through Friday at Churchill's Hideaway, 5501 NE 2nd Ave. Call 305-757-1807.

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